Regardless of the ages of the thespians involved, there’s just something about an opening night of a production. While some theatergoers might prefer a later performance, feeling they’d like to see a more polished presentation where some of the wrinkles of an opening night have been ironed out, I like the buzz, that sense of anticipation, which comes with a lid-lifting show.
Of course, just because it’s a first-night performance, that’s not to say that there will be a lot of mistakes. As I shared with Jim O’Neill, the producer of LCC’s class play “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” performed in the Crouse Performance Hall on March 12 and 13, given the age and the paucity of theatrical experience of those who trod those boards, I thought opening night was pretty darn close to flawless and, of course, historic. This was the first time a school play has ever been performed on Lima’s grandest stage.
As soon as I settled into my seat on the left side, Row N, Seat 100, a half hour before the play commenced, I was so impressed with what I saw on the stage of this traditional proscenium theater.
There were large drawings of Charles Schultz’s iconic creations that arguably America’s most famous cartoonist began drawing in the early 1950s and continued to modify and add characters for the rest of the 20th century. For so very many alive today, there has never been a world without Charlie Brown, Lucy, Snoopy and the rest of the gang.
The big board on the back of the stage was a rolling screen of images that provided sort of a history lesson for the “Peanuts” characters. The changing images identified the first appearance for each by exact date as well as a personality profile and a Charles Darwin-like sequential chart of how Schultz modified the way he drew the character for each of the five decades until his passing in 2000 at the age of 77.
As for the play itself, all I can say is wow. The actors, aided by the amplification that a professional theater can provide, did a terrific job of enthusiastically and articulately delivering their lines without one stumble I could detect in the near two-hour performance. The dancing was well done, and the musical numbers were interspersed smoothly.
The play’s setting was pretty simple, as in a typical day in the life of that lovable loser Charlie Brown, and Act I began with a rousing number bearing the same title as the play. I was instantly impressed by the colorful costuming and the harmony exhibited by the cast’s singing that first number. The performers also seemed to move easily about the stage, a testimony to what O’Neill told me, that the young performers had the very unique opportunity to have a full two weeks’ worth of rehearsals on the Crouse stage.
As the story of the protagonist’s insecurities and long history unfolded of his failed attempts to win a baseball game, kick a football without Lucy snatching the ball away from him, flying a kite and keeping it out of that blasted kite-eating tree or conjuring the courage to talk to that cute redheaded girl, I was pleased to see the pace of the show was brisk. That was the case for both the longer Act I, and, after a 15-minute break, the shorter Act II.
Much of the action centered on Gavin Schimpf’s Charlie, Anna Delamotte’s Lucy and Nathaniel Bruno’s Snoopy, and really all were terrific, especially Delamotte’s and Bruno’s strong vocals, with the latter really shining so brightly with both song and dance (including a killer moonwalk) in his number “Suppertime,” that spoke to life’s simpler pleasures, like a full bowl of food. I also very much enjoyed Nathan Stolly’s Beethoven-obsessed Schroeder and Emma DeLong’s Sally and her vivacious, both in step and song, delivery of her number “My New Philosophy.”
However, to mention only those five slights the others that comprised the cast. A collective “well done” certainly goes out to the following: Justin Hawkins (Linus); Hayden Bader (Roy); Zach Burris (Shermy); Mary-Kate Dee (Violet); Olivia Garlock (Belle); Anthony Guagenti (Pig Pen); Isabella Joseph (Marcie); Zaria Keys (Frieda); Ross Otto (Maynard); Zac Patterson (Benny); Joey Rinehart (Franklin); Emily Scarberry (Little Red-Headed Girl); Katherine Siatkosky (Peppermint Patty); Madisen Williams (Shirley); Morgan Chaney (Clara); and, joining Chaney as Snoopy’s best friend Woodstock, Zoey Foster, Jillian Lieurance and Sophia Luchini, who combining for four lovable dancing chicks in costuming that left no doubt that they were indeed birds of a definite bright yellow feather.
As for my takeaway, well, the play spoke to me in much the same way as Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town,” by reminding me that the simple pleasures of life are the best and that the anxieties and insecurities and other foibles that we sometimes exhibit really are universal and are what makes us human, necessary to complete the collective anatomy of our great family of man and woman.
Despite the short run of just two nights, the experience, both for the excellent production team and especially for the young performers, most of whom had never been on stage before much less on Lima’s most important stage, may very well be an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.
John Grindrod is a regular columnist for The Lima News, a freelance writer and editor and the author of two books. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.